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Rugby League World Cup: Steve McNamara promises swift improvement from England
I'm glad it's happened this week in a way rather than next week. I'm sure we will be a whole lot better for it next week.
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- World Cup warm-ups
England coach Steve McNamara accused his players of losing their focus as they slipped to a shock defeat to Italy in their World Cup warm-up match.
McNamara's men failed to build on a 14-12 half-time lead as a drop goal from winger Josh Mantellato two minutes from the end condemned them to a humiliating 15-14 loss ahead of next week's opening World Cup clash with tournament favourites Australia.
"I'm really disappointed," McNamara said. "We've certainly not played anywhere near what we are capable of. That's quite clear to see."
The England players arrived back from a two-week training camp in South Africa just three days before the match but McNamara defended his team's World Cup build-up.
"We gambled on a long trip but they were absolutely fine," he said. "They were fresh and ready to go.
"I just think our mentality was really wrong for this game. We were probably guilty of looking towards next week and we took our eye off this game. I don't think we were fully focused.
Test of resolve
"I'm glad it's happened this week in a way rather than next week. I'm sure we will be a whole lot better for it next week.
"We've got a lot of work to do between now and then but I'm very confident we will get that work done and that we will put in a much-improved performance next week.
"It tests our resolve, it's tests us about everything we've been speaking about over however many years and it's time to put that into practice. It's for real now and we have to respond."
The only bright spot was provided by full-back Sam Tomkins, England's record try-scorer who lit up the drab proceedings with a brace before witnessing his side's demise from the sidelines as McNamara rang the changes in order to give run-outs to 20 members of his World Cup squad.
Tomkins' tries looked to have put England on the right track after a series of early defensive lapses enabled the Italians to build a 12-4 lead.
McNamara was particularly concerned at the way his defenders fell off the tackle to allow St Helens prop Anthony Laffranchi a soft early try and the ease with which hooker Dean Parata burrowed his way from dummy half for the Italians' second.
"They are the worst tries you can concede," McNamara said. "They were soft tries and to concede them in that manner was not acceptable for an England team."
The result was a personal triumph for Italy's Salford-born coach Carlo Napolitano, who has spent the last 14 years helping to develop rugby league in his country, and who can now look forward to next week's opening World Cup match against Wales high on confidence.
Although he insisted in advance that the result was not important, Napolitano encouraged his side to level the scores with a penalty on 69 minutes before celebrating a famous victory at the final whistle with his captain Anthony Minichiello, who had words of encouragement for England.
"I'm sure they will be much better next week for the run, as will we," Minichiello said.
"It was a good game for us. It has got our confidence up. We've had limited amount of preparations and it will bring the team together a bit more.
"It's pretty special. The boys were pretty excited at the end."World Club Challenge. Click here to bet.